Part IV: Alyosha and Zarathustra on Com-passion and a Genuine Embodied Life
from Per Caritatem by Cynthia R. Nielsen
Dostoevsky, as well, offers his own critique of rationalism and related forms of reductionism. Though accused by many scholars of advocating a (so-called) Kierkegaardian irrationalism and extreme voluntarism, as Rowan Williams has convincingly argued, such a conclusion (among other things) fails to take into account (1) what Mikhail Bakhtin coined as the “polyphonic” mode of Dostoevsky’s text-a mode creating both dissonant and consonant extended harmonies-and (2) the way in which Dostoevsky allows Alyosha’s faith to grow and mature, thus exhibiting a picture that reflects more authentically the complexity and struggle involved in living a life of faith in this world.
Many critics point to an early statement (Feb. 1854) found in a letter written by Dostoevsky to Natalya Fonvizina, a woman who had gifted him with a copy of the New Testament that he had read avidly while in prison. The content of the letter is frequently cited as evidence that Dostoevsky’s religious faith is based on irrationalism and exhibits something closely resembling Nietzsche’s will to power (extreme voluntarism). Dostoevsky’s admittedly difficult statement reads as follows: “if someone were to prove to me that Christ was outside [вне] the truth, and it was really the case that the truth lay outside Christ, then I should choose to stay with Christ rather than the truth.”
Williams, having examined and analyzed several of Dosteovsky’s texts and characters-from the Underground Man (Notes from the Underground), to Shatov and Stavrogin (Devils), to Alyosha and Ivan (Brothers Karamazov), offers a plausible (and to this author convincing) way to approach and interpret Dostoevsky’s statement that resonates with Dostoevsky’s own complex understanding of faith as that which “moves and adapts, matures and reshapes itself.” 6:58 AM